Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stock Car Racing's 'Silver Fox' David Pearson

By Ross Everett

South Carolina's Darlington Raceway is an egg shaped terror that has become known as the track too tough to tame. If thats true, David Pearson came pretty close--during his illustrious career, he posted 10 victories and 12 poles at Darlington. These are both records for one of NASCAR's most unforgiving tracks. Pearson's ability at Darlington bordered on the unreal, and he was able to follow the conventional wisdom about performing well there better than anyone. The old saying is that you need to race the track, not the other drivers, but that's a lot easier said than done. Pearson, however, made it look easy.

David Pearson was born three days before Christmas 1934 in a tough textile town near the North Carolina/South Carolina border called Whitney. His parents both worked in the local mill and did their best to provide. David quit school after the 10th grade and also worked in the mill. He was soon drawn away by his love of fast cars. He bought his own car and began racing at short tracks in the area. He ran his first race in'52 in Woodruff, South Carolina and won his first championship at the old Greenville/Pickens Speedway in'59.

Pearson never sought out stock car racing immortality, but some of his friends had other ideas. They began raising money to buy a car to race in the NASCAR Grand National series (the forerunner to today's Sprint Cup). With a patchwork of financial backing, David began racing a limited schedule on the Grand National circuit and was named the'60 rookie of the year. In'61, he became the first driver in history to win on 3 of the 4 superspeedways in the same season (Charlotte, Atlanta, Daytona). This attracted sponsors, and before he knew it he was a top NASCAR driver winning Grand National titles in'66,'68 and'69.

In'72, he started driving for the Wood Brothers in the #21 car that he was to make a legend. In'73, he won 11 races in' starts"an incredible feat even by today's standards. He cut back his schedule in those years to focus on superpeedways. Through the end of the'70s, Pearson won 43 races. In addition to his mastery of Darlington, he posted remarkable numbers all over the circuit. He is one of two men to have won more than 100 races, and his 105 is second only to The King Richard Petty's 200 wins. Hes also second on career poles (113) to Petty. Head to head, however, he has a slight edge over NASCARs legendary King: in races where he and Petty finished 1-2, Pearson won 33 to Petty's 30. His 11 consecutive poles at Charlotte is a feat that will likely never be matched. Another record that may never be broken is his'.29% winning percentage, as well as his record of starting from the pole in 20% of the races he ran.

Pearson is alive and well and still lives in Spartanburg, SC. In March 2000, SC Highway 221 through Spartanburg County was renamed David Pearson Boulevard in his honor. He still gets out on the Darlington track a few times a year--impressive for anyone, but even more so for a 75 year old man. And he's still got the sterling silver hair which gave him his nickname of 'The Silver Fox'.

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